Author's Note: The attached recipe appears in my book, The One-Bottle Cocktail: More Than 80 Recipes With Fresh Ingredients and a Single Spirit, which is available for preorder now. I hope you like it!
The texts and Facebook messages begin in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and don't let up until New Year's has passed. They come from my sister-in-law, from long-lost high school buddies, from my mother-in-law's best friend. They all say basically the same thing: "I'm responsible for holiday cocktails. I hear you can help."
The rules of this challenge are mostly unspoken: Give me something easy and good that I can make in advance and serve proudly at my Christmas dinner/cocktail party/office cookie swap/gingerbread house decoration-fest. I need a drink that works even if the local liquor store is lame. And it must not require fancy bitters, or even a cocktail shaker, because those are not available.
When I started collecting recipes for my first book, I knew that I wanted to include some drinks that could answer those texts, and generally solve the problem of how to make fancy cocktails when you've got a million other things to do as a host. The premise of the book helps: While the flavor profile of each drink is modern, and while they taste like the cocktails you get at today's bars and restaurants, none of the beverages included call for vermouth or bitters; fancy liqueurs, amari, or absinthe; orgeat or falernum. Each drink features just a single spirit—vodka, gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, Pisco, cognac, rye, bourbon, or Scotch—and ingredients you can pick up at the market when you're getting groceries. These drinks get their bitterness from tea, from citrus peels, from spices, and, in one case, from radicchio. They get their brightness from fresh produce, from kombucha, and from vinegar. Some are sweetened with jam, others with maple syrup or honey or even cream soda.
This pitcher cocktail, created by Dee Ann Quinones for the holiday menu at the now-closed Grace Gaelic Hospitality in New York, relies on a few of those tricks. Up to a week in advance, you'll make a simple, tangy mixer with unsweetened cranberry juice, sugar, champagne vinegar, and cinnamon sticks. It keeps in the fridge and is quite tasty on its own with seltzer. The warming spice recalls the best versions of fruitcake, and the cranberry-vinegar combo ends up tasting something like aperitif wine.
When you're preparing for a party, just combine the refrigerated cranberry combination with twice as much rye whiskey in a pitcher, and stir. If you have the fridge space, you can refrigerate the pitcher, covered, early in the day; if you don't, pour the two items together at the last minute and stir well. When your guests arrive, put one person in charge of the ice-crushing. You want a lot of crushed ice in each glass to chill down the drink and make sure it's diluted enough—this drink can take quite a bit of watering down. If you don't have a Lewis bag (one of Daniel's favorite holiday gifts!) and a mallet, fill a zipper-lock plastic bag with cubes, wrap it in a dish towel, and give it a few wallops with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin. Each guest can take a turn with the bashing, then fill their own glass with a mountain of ice and a pour or two of premade cocktail. It makes things pretty easy on the host.
At least, until those texts requesting the recipe start to arrive.